Saturday, February 27, 2016

ITF challenges Yaya Jammeh over the death in custody of trade union leader

Sheriff Diba
The International Transport Workers' Federation (IFT) is challenging the Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, over the death of Sheriff Diba, a Gambian trade unionist who died while in custody at Mile II prisons - one of the worst prisons in the world.  

In addition to demanding answers to circumstances surrounding the death of the union leader, the IFT is making specific demands on the regime which include (i) the immediate lifting of the ban on the Gambian National Transport Control (GNTC) which Jammeh imposed (ii) the dropping of all legal charges against leaders and members of the GNTC and (iii) a National Commission of Inquiry that includes members of GNTC be established to determine the exact circumstances that led to the death of Sheriff Diba.  

The circumstances over his death and the cause of death have not been disclosed by the authorities.  In fact, when he died last week, it was reported that prison officers tried concealing the fact that he died in prison by moving his body to a health center in the outskirts of the capital of Banjul.

The regime of Yaya Jammeh continues the cover up by promising the family of Mr. Diba that an autopsy will be conducted, a promise that was never fulfilled.  His body was released by authorities to Mr. Diba's family several days after his death,contrary to Islamic teachings and with the proviso that the body be buried immediately.

The banning of the GNTC and the subsequent arrest and charging of the entire executive of the last functioning trade union in the Gambia was triggered when the union asked Jammeh to lower the retail price of fuel to reflect the dramatic reduction of fuel price.

Unlike neighboring Senegal and other countries around the world, Gambia did not pass on petrol prices even when the world market price has been tumbling for the past couple of years.  Despite numerous calls to the dictatorship by this blog on behalf of consumers - who are afraid of the repercussions - Jammeh, who has the monopoly of importation of petroleum products and a significant control over the retaining of petrol and petroleum products, refused to pass on any savings directly to the consumers.

It was until recently that through a budget gimmick that his Finance Minister decided that proceeds from a D1 reduction per gallon of petrol  instead of going into the pockets of the consumer would go to fund a "Road Maintenance Fund".  Drivers have since been asking what happens to the road tax they pay annually meant for road maintenance.  Gambia has been withdrawing the petroleum subsidy at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund, thus increasing the pump price until this year.

Price gauging has been perfected into an art by the Gambian dictator and a few of his business partners who've cornered the petroleum market.  It, therefore, becomes highly risky for consumers to be seen to be interfering with the income stream of a select few.  Unfortunately, in making a legitimate demand as a citizen and union leader, Sheriff Diba, paid the ultimate price.

The 1,000% unilateral tariff increase for the use of the TransGambia highway will further complicate a resolution of the problem and the fulfillment of the demands of ITF because, as Alassane Ndoye, the former Executive Secretary of the Senegal Transport Union and a Member of Parliament said in a recent radio interview that Sheriff Diba and colleagues on the executive of the GNTC had been extremely instrumental in negotiations in previous border closures.  Now that the union is banned and members facing dubious charges, the border closure is expected to drag in for a a very long time.